Friday 12 June 2009

Who votes for Alliance, and why?

The Alliance Party has been around since 1970, and while it has rarely come close to achieving electoral success, it manages to hang on nonetheless. It has a core of voters that comes perilously close to insignificance at times before bouncing back a little. In its early days the party received percentages as high as 14.4%, but, as the graph below shows, the trend is unmistakably downward (it should be noted that in some elections Alliance has not stood in all constituencies – particularly in 1974 (February) when they stood in only three out of 12):

The graph shows a regular dip in the Alliance vote every five years – these are the European Parliament elections. Obviously many Alliance voters, knowing that their vote is going to be transferred anyway, either do not vote at all, or skip the pointless Alliance vote and go directly to their second preference.

Nonetheless, in the recent European Parliament election it received 26,699 votes (5.5%) – despite having no realistic chance of winning a seat. This number must represent a hard core of Alliance supporters who are determined to fly the flag of their party regardless. This level of 'hard core' voters is seen more clearly in the second graph, which looks at Alliance Party votes and percentages in elections apart from European Elections:

Here it can be seen that the decline seems to have reached a floor of around 4-5% of the total, and an absolute vote of around 30,000. The outcome of the 2009 European election for Alliance was entirely consistent with this.

But who were the 26,699 people who voted for the lliance party last week, and why did they give their first preference vote to a candidate who was never going to be elected?

Different elections allow us a different glimpse of the Alliance voter. Westminster elections show us that they are largely concentrated in outer Belfast; South and East Antrim, Lagan Valley, and East Belfast. Few Alliance voters are west of the Bann. This was not always the case – in earlier days the Alliance Party had received small though respectable scores in places like Mid Ulster, Derry and South Down. By 2005, however, the party was no longer even standing in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Foyle, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh and West Tyrone. As the west 'greened', it seems that the 'yellow' withdrew.

The Single Transferrable Vote allows us to see which parties are the second choices of the hard core Alliance voters. The recent European Parliament election was revealing in this respect. The Alliance and Green candidates were eliminated together (causing, unfortunately, a difficulty separating their transfers, but given the two parties similarities it is likely that their transfer patterns were not hugely different).

Of the 42,463 votes cast for the Alliance and Green candidates, some 7,548 did not transfer – these were the hardest of the hard core. But 34,915 transferred as follows:

Jim Allister (TUV) – 4,284 votes (12% of the transfers)
Diane Dodds (DUP) – 2,914 (8% of the transfers)
Alban Maginness (SDLP) – 16,325 (47% of the transfers)
Jim Nicholson (UUP) – 11,392 (33% of the transfers)

Thus over 20% of Alliance and Green transfers went, as a second preference, to hardline unionist candidates. Less than half went to the only other pro-EU candidate in the election (Maginness). In terms of tribal blocks, 53% of the votes that transferred went to unionists and 47% went to the sole nationalist, Maginness (de BrĂșn having already been elected).

This presents a strange picture of the Alliance vote. Nominally moderate, nominally pro-EU, nominally non-sectarian – nonetheless over one in 5 of the Alliance and Green transfers went to overtly tribal, strongly anti-EU candidates.

So while much of the Alliance Party's early vote (from the 1970s) has drifted away from the party ­ either towards electoral apathy or the other, tribal, parties, one would expect the hard core that remains to be made up of committed centrists, pro-Europeans and anti-sectarians. Yet over 20% of them transfer their vote to precisely the types of candidates that should be anathema to them – and they transfer thus in preference to the more moderate SDLP or UUP candidates. Perhaps some Alliance voters are not as far removed from the tribal hatreds as they pretend?


hoboroad said...

The History of Alliance is in "liberal" Unionism a contridiction in terms if ever there was one!It is Respectable Unionism it only really exists so the NIO can fill Quango Posts.If it was really Pro-Europe it would encourage transfers to the SDLP but it does not because it needs Protestant Support.It once had two councillors representing the Falls Road nowadays they could not find it on a map.

Faha said...

There is a simple explanation as to why 20% of Alliance-Green transfers went to the DUP and TUV. This pattern of tranfers has never occurred in any previous elections. If you look at previous elections less than 10% of Alliance-Green transfers go to the DUP. Why was it 20% in this election ? This is because the Alliance candidate was Ian Parsley and a few DUP voters mistook his name for Ian Paisley. They then transferred to the DUP and TUV for 2nd preferences.Of course, if you subtract 2,000 or 3,000 of these people from the Alliance vote the Alliance Party did not do as well as it appears.

Pedro said...

There is one blindlingly obvious explanation: the name of the candidate (Ian Parsley) who garnered the dyslexic DUP vote which then transferred on to Dodds, Allister etc.
Incidentally De Bruin was elected
by the time these votes were transferred - therefore *some* ofthe nontransferables must have been SF second preferences.
I'd guess the Greens, being an all-Ireland Party, would have been a comfortable repository for nationalist votes and this would have been reflected in the distribution of their second preferences.

Horseman said...


If you're right (and who knows .. ?) then it's bad news for Alliance. If around 7,000 of their votes were 'accidental', then their real vote would be below 20,000 and would be well below their recent performance. It would mean that their decline is continuing, and they're heading close to the bottom.

hoboroad said...

It's done well to last this long.Then again NIO patronage has done it no harm the Anglo-Irish Agreement did it harm because it could not oppose it yet it gained no benefits because they were earmarked for the SDLP in order to bolster them against Sinn Fein.

Anonymous said...

So who basically won the election? The catholics or the protestants? What does this election tell us?

Horseman said...

LOL, Anonymous,

No-one, of course, it was only the EP. But since the EU is a papal plot, as the DUP are aware (the Treaty of Rome, ffs, does it get any clearer?), then I suppose the fact that the unionists were so keen to get elected means that they've effectively surrendered to the power of Rome. Why, for example, are the Euro-eceptic parties strongest in Protestant areas (England, Scandinavia, Netherlands) and weakest in Catholic areas (Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, etc)? If the DUP and Allister were consistent they would boycott Strasbourg instead of taking the EU's shilling ...

hoboroad said...

Yes Horseman I remember Reading a DUP election leaflet in the 1980s pointing out the EEC leaders were all Roman Catholics who took their orders directly from the Pope!Ian Paisley once said he was going to milk the EEC cow till the tits fall off.Well he certainly made sure are farmers got there moneys worth.I wonder if Diane Dodds will do as well I don't think EU leaders will put up with being screeched at by that silly woman.

Horseman said...


Dodds will probably not join any of the EP's political groups (which one would have her?). As a result, she will get no positions or memberships of committees, and will get very very little speaking time. These things are largely controlled by the groups. So she will be an entirely ineffectual MEP, and no-one in Strasbourg or Brussels will ever notice her. She will probably try to look important by tabling dozens of Written Questions, but that is really the bottom of the barrel in EP terms. But the News Letter will continue to portray her as running the whole show. Pathetic.

hoboroad said...


Yes she will be as much use as a chocolate fireguard in Strasbourg!Nicholson will be more interesting as he will be sitting with some real headbangers from the old Eastern europe.Bairbre will end up doing most of the work just like Hume used to and her vote will only increase as even SDLP supporters realize she is the best MEP we have!

hoboroad said...

You are right about the Newsletter.But the Telegraph is no better when are we going to get some decent investigative Journalism in this Country.

Militant Mike said...

I would just like it to be recorded here that in typical Alliance fashion i shook the hands of both Bairbre de Brun and Diane Dodds at the Count on the 8th June. There really is little hope for me. I should add that i did get a smile from Jim Allister but decided against trying to shake his hand. All in all quite a good day out.

hoboroad said...

Good for you Militant Mike nice to see you have recovered from your hangover!Good manners cost nothing as Diane Dodds would do well to learn.

Horseman said...

Militant Mike,


Which order did you shake their hands, though? If it was BdB first, then was DD not afraid of cross-contamination?

Militant Mike said...

For the record twas BdB first (as she passed a table outside the Kings Head) and then DD - (on the island in the "middle of the road" tween Kings Head and Kings Hall - typical place for Alliance folk to hang out i suppose) but twas all before the post count "speeches" and the handshake refusal and risk of contamination.

ps Is Allisters "rant" on the platform after the Count available on youtube?

Horseman said...

ps Is Allisters "rant" on the platform after the Count available on youtube?

Yes, you can find the link on his own website (